Gov. Ted Strickland and Democratic members of the Ohio House of Representatives didn’t let the Ohio Constitution or other laws stop them in their politically motivated efforts to drive fellow-Democrat Marc Dann from the office of attorney general.
One of Dann’s managers was accused of sexually harassing two female employees of the office and damaging a state vehicle while driving drunk. Shortly thereafter, Dann reversed an earlier denial by admitting to a consensual office affair that may have set a wrong tone for his managers.
When the Ohio media gave heavy coverage to the story, Democratic leaders hastily called for Dann to resign and said they would impeach him if he didn’t. They took this position for political reasons only.
They showed no regard for the rights of Dann, the persons who helped elect him, or the Ohioans he was working to protect.
A surprising win in the election
Dann was a heavy underdog when he ran for attorney general in 2006 against the well-known Republican state auditor. She had been elected attorney general twice in the 1990s and was the establishment’s candidate.
But by conducting a populist, anticorruption campaign, Dann was elected Ohio’s first Democratic attorney general in many years.
The electorate was clearly disgusted with a “culture of corruption” in their Republican-dominated state government. As a state senator in 2005 and 2006, Dann had been a leader in exposing the corruption through a series of public-records requests, three lawsuits filed against then-Gov. Bob Taft’s administration, and strong public criticism of Taft and other Republican officials.
Those acts helped convince the voters to make Dann the state’s chief law-enforcement official, along with electing Democrats to all but one of the other statewide executive offices.
The election of Dann meant there was a new type of sheriff in town – one that some powerful special interests hadn’t expected, weren’t used to, and weren’t comfortable with.
A populist attorney general
As attorney general, Dann focused strongly on matters such as beefing up the office’s consumer-protection activities, making governmental records more accessible to the public, requiring government officials to hold public meetings as required by law, and significantly increasing the number of lawsuits the office brought to protect the environment.
He also helped Ohio’s poorest injured workers receive compensation they were entitled to, protected college students from fraud in credit-card marketing, expanded access to health care for the uninsured and the poor, shielded children from sexual abuse, shut down dog-fighting operations, and promoted quality education.
Additionally, in an era of widespread corporate malfeasance, Dann fought securities fraud, predatory lending, antitrust violations, Medicaid fraud, and other corporate wrongdoing. He sued some of America’s largest corporations on behalf of the public. As he had promised during the campaign, Dann vigorously opposed white-collar criminals.
He was bringing a populist mindset to the operation of the office. Longtime attorneys there said Dann was willing to boldly go where no Ohio attorneys general – Democrat or Republican – had gone before. And those lawyers were pleased about it, because they were at last able to work for some long-overdue justice for the public.
A few months before the complaints against his manager were filed, one Ohio newspaper ran an editorial cartoon favorably comparing Dann’s acts to those of Superman and Batman. It’s not often that anyone today notices a resemblance between a government leader and beloved superheroes.
Approximately a month before the complaints became public, an article about Dann in Columbus Monthly magazine said the aggressive agenda he was pursuing was controversial among some business interests. But the article was mostly favorable toward Dann and contained speculation he could someday be governor.
It also quoted a Republican state senator as saying, “He’s a populist,” and, “He didn’t say he was going to be anything other than what he is being.” That is, he was doing what the voters had hired him to do.
Dann’s efforts and accomplishments for the public, though, apparently meant little to Ohio’s Democratic leaders who wanted him gone after being in office only 16 months. They have never shown as much interest as he did in representing average citizens and the poor. But they have been very interested in pleasing big business and receiving its campaign contributions.
And they didn’t appear concerned that their acts against Dann could cause the attorney general’s office to be regained by the Republicans and become a foot servant for corporate interests at the expense of the public.
Because Strickland and other Democratic leaders in Ohio often give a higher priority to serving large corporations than helping people, they have been described as “corporate Democrats.” This is probably why people were amazed – and some business interests were concerned – that the new Democratic attorney general was actually turning out to be a true populist.
A high bar for impeachment
After Dann said he had not committed an impeachable offense and refused to resign, Democrats in the Ohio House quickly brought an impeachment resolution against him under the Ohio Constitution’s Section 24 of Article II.
That section, which was placed in the document in 1851, allows the House to impeach an official “for any misdemeanor in office.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines misdemeanor as a crime less serious than a felony and says the archaic meaning of the term encompasses any crime, including felonies. Either way, a misdemeanor is a crime.
But there was no evidence that Dann had committed a misdemeanor, and thus no authority to remove him under the constitutional standard for impeachment. Not only so, he clearly didn’t meet the impeachment standard applied to other officeholders in the recent past.
Many observers of Ohio’s state government thought former Gov. Bob Taft met the constitutional standard in 2005 when he was convicted of committing four first-degree misdemeanors in his acts as governor. He was the first Ohio governor in history to be convicted of a crime.
The Republican Taft was not only a criminal but an incompetent and unethical dolt who ran a remarkably corrupt administration and allowed the state treasury to be plundered by corporate crooks. At a minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars were lost. Almost $14 million was stolen by his golfing buddy Tom Noe.
Scandals in Taft’s administration eventually led to the criminal convictions of about 20 persons, including some of his top aides. But Taft didn’t face any serious impeachment efforts in the Ohio House, even from Democrats.
Of course, Dann’s alleged shortcomings pale even more compared to President George W. Bush’s outrageous wrongdoing as president. Bush should have been impeached on any of numerous grounds, such as intentionally lying to take the country to war in Iraq, causing the unnecessary deaths and maiming of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, violating the federal criminal law on wiretapping (FISA), authorizing torture of prisoners in violation of U.S. and international law, detaining foreign nationals and American citizens indefinitely while depriving them of the most basic civil and constitutional rights, and obstructing justice by refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas.
In his 2008 book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argues compellingly that Bush, who had avoided service in Vietnam like a coward, should be prosecuted for murder for knowingly using false pretenses to send American soldiers to their deaths in Iraq. And Bush didn’t even provide the body armor and other equipment that would have saved the lives of many of them. He thought providing huge tax cuts for big business and the wealthiest citizens was a higher priority.
Bush was another favorite of corporate America and apparently exempt from impeachment – even for the crime of murder – in today’s political world.
The allegations against Dann were also far less serious than the acts that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In a lawsuit alleging Clinton had sexually harassed a state employee as governor of Arkansas, he committed perjury, obstructed justice, and attempted to improperly influence the testimony of witnesses. And he perjured himself before the independent counsel’s grand jury investigating the matter.
Clinton, who has also been described as a corporate Democrat, was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives but not convicted in the Senate. Nevertheless, the judge in the civil case found him in contempt of court for giving “intentionally false” testimony and fined him $90,000. Then she referred the matter to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In admitting he had testified falsely under oath, Clinton agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license and a $25,000 fine to settle disbarment proceedings brought against him by a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court. The settlement also enabled him to avoid prosecution by the replacement independent counsel for the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton later surrendered his U.S. Supreme Court law license to end disbarment proceedings begun by that court.
Moreover, Clinton settled the civil lawsuit by paying his accuser $850,000 rather than defend against her sexual-harassment allegation at a trial.
Strickland opposed Clinton’s impeachment while in Congress and has continued to denounce it ever since.
Dems lower the bar for Dann
The failure to remove Taft, Bush, and Clinton from office seemed to set a very high bar for impeachment. And Dann was far below it. After all, he hadn’t even been accused of a crime.
But the sly Strickland, along with his unprincipled and spineless Democratic lackeys in the Ohio House, devised a method to get around the problem. They apparently decided that a much lower impeachment standard should apply to populist officeholders.
Here’s how they did it. In the impeachment resolution introduced against Dann, they declined to use the impeachment standard in Section 24. Rather, they used the less stringent standards for removal in the Ohio Constitution’s Section 38 of Article II and the statutes implementing that section.
In particular, the standards came from Ohio Revised Code Section 3.07, which lists the grounds for removal for misconduct in office. Its standards include acts less serious than crimes.
But both R.C. 3.07 and R.C. 3.08 specify that those standards apply to the judicial method of removing public officials from office. It would involve collecting signatures of over 600,000 qualified electors and then having the matter heard by a state appellant court, whose decision can be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
By bringing the impeachment resolution under Section 24 but not using the removal standard contained in that section, and instead using the Section 38 standards that apply to an entirely different procedure, Strickland and the Democratic representatives acted unlawfully and fraudulently.
Their resolution was intended to deceive the public into erroneously believing that impeachable acts had been committed. In setting forth the impeachable offenses, the resolution included acts that no one before had ever dreamed could be grounds for impeachment.
Some of the alleged impeachable acts included failing to perform official duties of the office, failing to exercise due care in the administration of the office, failing to ensure the safety and security of state property, failing to know about the misuse of state property for personal business, and undermining the effectiveness and efficiency of the office. Far less than criminal acts are needed to meet such standards.
As one Ohio newspaper editorialized: “Were they not so offensive to the Ohio Constitution, the articles of impeachment against Dann . . . would have been laughable.”
Dems lower the boom on Dann
While moving forward with impeachment proceedings in the House, Strickland and House Democrats called for an outside investigation of Dann’s office to determine whether impeachment proceedings should move forward in the House. This was a remarkable instance of putting the cart before the horse.
It showed they knew they didn’t have enough evidence to support the impeachment proceedings they already were bringing. It also showed they had decided the issue regardless of what the investigation would find. But this was not the end of their unfairness or deviousness.
In providing for the outside investigation, Strickland and the General Assembly did not choose an independent and impartial investigator, as would have been the right thing to do under the circumstances. Instead, they chose the Ohio inspector general. In essence, the inspector general answers to the small man who was working feverishly and unethically to remove Dann from office: Strickland.
When the inspector general was chosen, persons having knowledge about the inner workings of Ohio’s state government saw the writing on the wall. The General Assembly might as well have passed a law allowing Strickland to tie up Dann and hit him over the head with a large stick until he agreed to resign. Either approach would have been equally effective in producing the same result.
That’s because the inspector general knew what his boss wanted done. And he would be sure to do it with a vengeance.
After receiving authority to act, the inspector general almost immediately applied force and intimidation by having his agents invade and ransack the attorney general’s office. They seized computers, cell phones, other electronic equipment, and what the inspector general called “a lot” of documents.
Reportedly stunned by the raid, Dann was stripped of his computer, BlackBerry, and state vehicle. He hadn’t expected that his Democratic colleagues, whom he had greatly helped in the past, could be so unfair, cruel, and cold to him.
The Ohio media labeled this high-profile raid as “shock and awe,” presumably because it reminded them of the U.S. military’s attack on Iraq in 2003. The military’s shock-and-awe strategy has been described as including a rapid and massive strike with brutal, overwhelming force to destroy an adversary’s ability and will to fight.
As it was undoubtedly intended to do, the inspector general’s shock-and-awe raid crippled Dann’s ability to continue functioning in office. He was compelled to resign, but still contended he had not committed an impeachable offense.
In previous investigations of alleged wrongdoing in state government, the inspector general hadn’t used such strong-arm tactics even against the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation after the media revealed in 2005 that millions had been stolen from the agency.
Other government offices, both at the federal and state levels, often investigate allegations of workplace sexual harassment. They manage to do it successfully without using Gestapo tactics and seriously disrupting the operation of workplaces.
But those offices normally strive to conduct a fair and nondisruptive investigation, which is not what Strickland and other Democratic leaders wanted for Dann. They were determined to force him from office no matter if laws and civilized standards of fairness had to be trampled.
An outrageous injustice
Strickland’s lack of interest in due process and other legal requirements had been shown as early as the press conference at which he first called for Dann to resign or be impeached.
He told reporters the Democratic leaders were “ready to take whatever action is necessary” to remove Dann from office. That is not the attitude of people who want an impartial investigation and a fair application of the law.
To the contrary, it’s a “win-at-all-costs” and “ends-justify-means” attitude more befitting thugs and scoundrels.
During the same press conference, Strickland advocated impeachment while also revealing he was unsure what the standard for impeachment is under the Ohio Constitution. This nonsensical position was, by itself, indisputable proof that his acts were based on political calculations and not the law.
When Strickland’s other statements at the press conference are analyzed, they too indicate he simply wanted Dann out of office regardless of whether the facts and law supported the outcome.
Strickland’s subsequent acts were entirely consistent with that assessment of his attitude. If, as many believe, the manner in which a person uses power is the best test of character, Strickland failed the test miserably.
Strickland and his fellow corporate Democrats should be ashamed of their unlawful and unethical conduct that drove the populist Dann from the office the voters had elected him to hold. A stronger case could be made for removing those officials from office than for removing Dann.
The entire episode was a huge miscarriage of justice, an affront to democracy, and a victory for powerful corporate interests.
In announcing his choice of an interim attorney general to replace Dann, Strickland said he did not know she was a Democrat until after he had offered her the position. This was another indication of his lack of interest in having an attorney general who aggressively supports traditional Democratic principles. And although the appointee said she is a Democrat, a check by the media revealed that when Strickland and Dann were elected in 2006, she was registered as a Republican.
For the special election to decide who will serve the final two years of the term Dann had been elected to, both the Republican and Democratic candidates promised business groups they will be less aggressive than Dann was as attorney general. Unlike Dann, they showed the genuflection and obeisance that corporate interests want to see from Ohio’s state officials.
The impeachment bar will surely be raised high again for such officials. And the lower standards will be placed in storage until the next hard-charging, populist statewide officeholder comes along.
Sadly, much of the above story has not been told by the corporate media in Ohio. They seem obsessed with the parts about sex and drinking.
It’s a shame there’s not a real Superman or Batman to right this injustice. If there were, Strickland and Democratic members of the Ohio House would be in big trouble.
But maybe the voters will someday play that role.
[For more information on this subject, please see the articles titled “All Sides of the Story Needed in Judging Sexual-Harassment Complaints,” “Ohio Officials Used a Flawed Investigation Report to Force Attorney General Marc Dann from Office,” “Photos Are More Evidence That Attorney General Woman’s Sexual-Harassment Complaint Was Bogus,” and “Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray Mishandled Settlement of Bogus Sexual-Harassment Complaint.”]